How does a company found a union

Form a union: a right of the worker

In the United States, the workforce of a crowdfunding company formed a union in 2020. An unusual and sensational event for the USA. In Germany, on the other hand, trade unions are normal. In principle, nothing stands in the way of its establishment.

Why workers form a union

Trade unions fight for fair wages and better working conditions for workers. At the end of the 19th century, employees came together for the first time to fight for better conditions for the workforce. Most unions have been around for around 170 years. This is how long workers fight for better conditions in the workplace with work stoppages, because this is allowed under the right to strike for trade unions.

In the recent past, new associations have also been established in Germany. For example, the Cockpit Association, an association for flight engineers and pilots. Almost all airlines recognize the advocacy group as a union and collective bargaining partner.

Usually the reason for founding a new trade union is: Not all employees feel that they are properly represented by the existing trade unions in Germany. Or they cannot find an association that suits their interests.

One reason for that: the structural change in the world of work. Trade unions are often still geared towards traditional professions and work models.

For this reason, various industries have recently established their own employee associations. In addition to the cockpit pilots' association, for example, the specialist and branch unions “Marburger Bund” (clinic doctors) as well as the unions for train drivers and air traffic control. Anyone who does not feel they are in a union can found a new one. This is what the Basic Law says.

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The Basic Law allows the establishment of trade unions

There it says that in the sense of the so-called right of association, there is a general right to found companies and associations. This also applies to the right of employers and employees alike to form associations in which their social interests are represented.

The criteria of a union

That is not all: There are also additional conditions that are related to collective bargaining requirements. In short: unions must be able to pay tariffs. That is the case when the union is assertive.

Members and officials must not shy away from industrial action such as strikes. A representation of interests without social power is not recognized by employers' associations.

The ability to fight for all areas within the collective agreement is also one of the prerequisites for successful trade union work. A union that only deals with parts of a collective agreement is not fully eligible.

Form a union: difficult process

Union formation is hard work that can be worth it. For employees in particular, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of a union. People planning to form a union need a lot of confidence to stand up to employers' organizations. Leadership skills are also indispensable qualities.

The project is always difficult: Not every boss is happy when his workforce pursues appropriate plans. It is important not to make any mistakes in the job so as not to open up a target for attack.

There is usually a chance of success when most of the employees support the idea. Better still, the majority of the workforce has problems in the workplace. Help is not only available from within, but possibly also from external persons such as politicians or other local personalities.

Contact with established trade unions is just as important. If the project is successful and the union has been established, the employer must in future seek talks with the members of the union. Employees who are members of the new association can be informed and represented by them, for example on questions relating to labor law.

Works council instead of founding a union

Most of the time, employees do not found a union, but a works council. The employer cannot legally prevent this: the establishment of works councils is laid down in the Works Constitution Act (BtrVG). Clause 1 states:

Works councils are elected in companies with at least five permanent employees entitled to vote, three of which are eligible. This also applies to joint operations of several companies. A joint operation of several companies is assumed if the operating resources and employees are used jointly by the companies for the pursuit of work-related purposes or the division of a company results in one or more parts of a company be assigned to another company involved in the demerger, without the organization of the company concerned changing significantly.

What is the significance of a works council?

A works council represents the interests of employees in a company. He does not have to be a member of a trade union. The works council has the right to request information from the employer about internal company content (right to information). In addition, he is allowed to have a say in the company's social affairs (codetermination). If a company wants to relocate, hire or terminate workers, it needs the approval of the works council. Works agreements are also part of the tasks (e.g. vacation planning, working hours).

Establishing a works council: that's what counts

In order to set up a works council, the following requirements must be met in the company:

  • At least three colleagues should be willing to set up a works council in the company
  • At least five employees who are entitled to vote must be employed in the company.
  • Minors, freelancers and people in the voluntary social / ecological year (FSj, FÖJ) are not actively eligible to vote. Minor employees (450 euro workers) and temporary workers are allowed to vote.
  • The new works council is determined by election. An electoral board is necessary for this. The electoral board results from the vote of a works meeting. If a general or group works council already exists in the company, it determines the electoral board.
  • The electoral process must be determined before the foundation. With a company size of up to 50 employees entitled to vote, the simplified voting procedure applies. Otherwise the normal.

Conclusion - formation of unions

Forming a union is a lot of work. Without the famous “thick skin” towards the employer and a large portion of self-confidence, it does not work. It makes sense to set up a trade union when no existing association can or does not want to represent the interests of the employees.

Author: editorial staff personal knowledge

Common questions about starting a union

How can the decline in membership of the trade unions be explained?

Many employees feel that their interests are not being properly represented. This is also related to the structural change in the world of work. There are more and more professional groups (especially in the IT industry) for which none of the existing organizations really fit.

Who should the desire to form a union come from?

From the employees (at least three eligible voters). However, it is also possible that a union already represented in the company suggests a formation.

How many people in Germany are unionized?

The German Federation of Trade Unions, with its eight affiliated individual trade unions, has around six million. In addition, there are around 1.3 million organized employees in the civil servants' association / collective bargaining union. 0.3 million people are members of the Christian trade union confederation. There are also smaller individual, specialist and branch unions.

Trade unions: what about in other European countries?

While in Germany only every seventh employee (15 percent) is a member of a trade union, in Scandinavia, for example, there are significantly more (Denmark and Finland just under 70 percent, Sweden around 62 percent, source: Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft) in Lithuania and France Numbers, however, under ten percent.

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